Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cleanup, BBQ, and Ride Day

Event Poster

The city, the U of T Mountain Biking Club and TORBG are getting together this Saturday, June 2nd, for an event day in the Don. It will start at 10 AM with a garbage cleanup, followed by a BBQ and a guided group bicycle ride on the Don Trails through Crothers' Woods. For more information you can contact Scott Laver with the city or phone 416-338-3478.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Ingredients used for recipe. Cost of ingredients approximately $10 + $8 for pine nuts = $18

I have been removing Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) from the Don Valley ever since I got involved in stewardship about 8 years ago. Normally we dispose of it in the garbage because you can't compost it (the seeds can survive this process). Some research on the plant indicates that it was introduced to North America from Europe for use as a culinary herb. Apparently you can use the leaves in green salad. The leaves add a tangy, garlicky taste.

At a recent stewardship outing, one of my volunteers brought a recipe for Garlic Mustard pesto. Since I had never made pesto before I decided to give it a try. Here is the recipe:

1 cup Garlic Mustard leaves
3 tbsp ground Garlic Mustard taproot (roots I collected were too woody)
1 cup basil leaves
3/4 cup parsley
2 cups pine nuts or walnuts
1 1/4 cups olive oil (used only 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup miso (substituted tofu)
1 1/2 cups olives (forgot to add these)
4 cloves garlic

Remove leaves and roots. Wash thoroughly. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor and this results in four cups of pesto.

Roots and leaves of Garlic Mustard

So here is what happened. I collected 3 large plants from our latest weeding expedition. When buying the ingredients, I was shocked to find that pine nuts are absurdly expensive at almost $5 per 100 grams. So I opted to get half walnuts and half pine nuts. Also, I couldn't find Miso at the supermarket. I vaguely recalled that miso is a soybean based product so I took a gamble and bought tofu instead. If I try the recipe again I will scout out the specialty food shops first.

I don't have a food processor so I made do with a hand held blender and a mixing bowl. This seemed to work OK. The plants I collected gave me enough leaves but I found that the large plants produce a very woody taproot. So it was almost impossible to cut or chop. So the lesson is to use a lot of smaller, more tender roots. The recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups olive oil which seems like a lot so I cut that back to 1/2 cup.

It took about an hour to put everything together. In the end I somehow forgot to add the olives but this didn't seem to matter. It looked like pesto and tasted like pesto, although a strong garlic taste which I guess make sense. With all the ingredients it might be a little hard to taste the Garlic Mustard ingredients but at least I know that it can be used.

The thing is we removed several hundred plants from our restoration site so that makes for enough Garlic Mustard for about a 100 litres of pesto. So we may have to go on bagging the stuff until I can find more recipes.

Finished product. Use as an appetizer spread or with pasta

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Looking for a Few Good People

The Task Force to Bring Back the Don is currently recruiting new members. This happens once every three or four years. As an official City of Toronto committee we are re-established with each new term of council. This is also a convenient time to recruit new members. People leave the committee for a variety of reasons, eg. move away, lose interest, have children, start a new job, etc.

This time around the task force is looking for about 9 new members. The requirements for the position are listed on the Task Force website. While the list of qualifications may seem daunting, it is just a guideline. Anybody who applies and shows a keen interest in the Don Valley and its myriad issues and challenges has a good shot at being accepted. And we're not just looking for scientists and planners. We have people from all walks of life. Our current members have a wide variety of talent and experience:

  • IT database administrator
  • Hospital administrator
  • Train engineer (retired)
  • Publications editor
  • High school biology teacher (retired)
  • Human resources consultant
  • Graphic arts designer

So if you are considering an application, I suggest reviewing the contents of the website. One of the members who started three years ago told me that reading the website gave him the impetus he needed to apply.

Applications are being accepted now. The deadline is June 11, 2007.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Events for May 26

Spring events are winding down but there are at least two more tree plantings.

Saturday May 26, 2007

Tree Planting, Eglinton Park, 9 AM - 12 Noon
200 Eglinton Ave. West
Toronto Green Community is hosting this event. You need to bring your own gloves. They will also be doing some weeding. While there you can tour their native plant garden also in this park.

Toronto Islands Sand Dunes Restoration, 8:45 AM - 12 Noon
Meet at 9:45 am outside the ferry terminal gates, city side (located immediately west of the Westin Harbour Castle at Queen's Quay and Bay Street). While not strictly a Don Watershed location, I always enjoy plantings at the Islands. The ferry ride is free for planters, the digging is super easy (in sand!) and you get to do your own thing on the island afterwards.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lament for Snags in the Lower Don

Dead tree chopped down in E.T. Seton Park

You may or may not have noticed that there has been a spate of tree cuttings in the Don Valley this spring. Most of the large trees that died this past winter have been chopped down by Parks and Forestry Department. There are two reasons for this. First the city doesn't want dead trees falling over and hurting anybody, a liability issue. Second, plenty of people call into the city and complain that the dead trees make the parks look 'messy'.

Which is really too bad because, dead trees, or snags create important habitat opportunities for many animals, birds, and insects. Animals such as bats, raccoons, woodpeckers, and owls create nests in hollows. Many insects feed on the dead wood. Woodpeckers especially feed on the insects in these trees.

If left in place many of these trees would have stood for another 20-30 years. I inspected this tree (see photo) and the heartwood is good and solid with no rot. This is just one area where the interface between humans and the natural world suffers. It's too bad that aesthetics takes priority over natural function.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Rethink... Forest?

Somebody's certainly rethinking this space

On the other side of Bayview Avenue from the Don Valley Brick Works is a small restoration site where Mud Creek enters the Don River. There is a small pond surrounded by shrubs such as Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) and until recently a group of large mature trees which I think were Crack Willow (Salix fragilis). Many Crack Willows were planted in the Don many years ago to stabilize the banks of the river. Until now these trees have achieved this admirably.

Recently as I was exiting the Brick Works I noticed something out of place. Upon closer inspection I noted to my surprise that all of the Willows had been cut down. These trees while non-native are not particularly invasive so there is no reason to cut them down. It seems ironic that these have been chopped just as the Brick Works is to begin a renaissance, courtesy of Evergreen. If anyone knows anything about this, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

Mature trees cut near Bayview

Pond at the end Mud Creek. I've spotted Muskrat living here in past years

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Get Revived on Route 45

Signpost on Lower Don Trail at Riverdale Park footbridge

Not as poetic as Get Your Kicks on Route 66, but the Lower Don Trail does take you to some interesting places. The city placed these signs along the trail in 2004 as part of a city wide bicycle trail initiative.

However, as reported on Dodgeville, they don't always get it right. In addition, construction projects in the past year have caused some of the signs to misdirect the unwary.

Some people have been asking about what's happening with the trail closure south of Queen. The trail was closed last year to perform some critical flood protection work on the railway span across the Don (see my post from December 2006).

Since then they have been hard at work. Even though the signs on the trail say "Reopening May 2007" delays in construction and scheduling have meant that this will be pushed back to sometime in July. I was forwarded a message from Ken Dion, TRCA site manager for the project, dated April 5, 2007. Here's what he had to say:

The underground high voltage cables were relocated into their new alignment west of the new bridge abutment approximately 1 month ago. The southern half of the new railway abutment was completed towards the end of March. As of 5:30 this morning [April 5] the last of the bridge girders were put in place on the south side of the railway bridge over the Don. Structurally, for all intensive [sic] purposes, we now have the main features of the bridge construction completed on both the northern and southern sides of the bridge (new abutment, new deck transformation of old abutment into a pier).

Over the next 3 months, construction will continue on shoring up the new riverbank, excavating the new river channel and placing the finishing engineering touches on the structure. Construction on the eastern half of the Bala Underpass is scheduled to start later in April. We anticipate that the Don Watershed Trail will be opened sometime in July though it is likely that the final revegetation in the area will not be completed until some time in the Fall.

I don't know whether they will be having a reopening ceremony at the time, but I will certainly keep you posted about any new developments when I hear about them.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Unusual Plant

Glossy leaved plant (click to expand)

I was cycling through Sherwood Park's forested area this week when I came across this plant which I couldn't identify. In cases like this I usually take a picture and try to identify it later. My initial thought was Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) but the leaf arrangement is wrong and the poison ivy flowers appear in the leaf axil. Here the flowers or fruits appear to be on a separate stalk.

One of my friends suggested Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) but this doesn't match either. So I am posting it on my blog in the hope that someone out there recognizes it. If you do recognize it post a comment or send me an email.

Possible seed or flower pods

Update on this plant - I received an email from a reader who suggested it might be Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis). I looked it up in my Peterson's "Field Guide to Wildflowers" and it looks like a match. The description clearly shows that the flowers appear in a cluster of three on a separate stalk. The flowers are a creamy-white and appear between May and July.

I guess I was confused because this plant hasn't yet flowered so looks unusual. A. nudicaulis is native to Ontario and grows in dry open woods which is the type of forest in Sherwood Park. Thanks to A. Lynch for the identification.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Water Testing on the Don

Water testing station beside the Don River

Just south of Pottery Road is a nondescript little hut beside the Don River. This little building which is covered with graffiti actually performs a valuable scientific function. It is used to collect water samples from the river for water quality testing.

I was passing by last week when I noticed a vehicle parked nearby and someone busy inside working some equipment. I stopped to look and had an interesting chat with the occupant. He turned out to be with the Ministry of the Environment and was collecting water samples. Apparently they do this periodically. The water samples are analyzed for various chemicals and dissolved minerals. In addition the amount of sediment gives an indication of how much suspended material is carried by the water. The station is also used to monitor base water flow and water flow during a storm surge.

All this data is compiled and collated along with data from the other watersheds in Toronto. The data will end up in a report that will be used for Toronto's Remedial Action Plan. The RAP program is used throughout the Great Lakes to work towards restoring environmentally degraded areas. The RAP program was started in 1987 and monitors 42 places in and around the Great Lakes. To date only two Areas of Concern (Collingwood Harbour and Severn Sound) have been completed and delisted.

Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes (Environment Canada, 2007)

Toronto's RAP is not the worst in the list but it is unlikely to be delisted anytime soon. Stormwater is still the biggest problem. This is being dealt with by the Wet Weather Flow Management Plan. While implementation started in 2002 it will take 25 years to complete. Even when it is completed in 2027 there is no guarantee that Toronto's water pollution problem will be completely solved. But at least there is a plan and it is being worked on.

Until that time, water samples will continue to be collected from the river. Let's hope that the trends indicate some improvement.

MOE scientist collecting water samples

Taking a live sample

Destined for the lab

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wilket Creek/Burke Brook Hike

Route of Saturday's Hike, click to expand (map courtesy of

I led a hike on Saturday that explored the open sections of Wilket Creek and Burke Brook, two tributaries of the west branch of the Don River. I recently became a hike leader for the Toronto Bruce Trail Club. My goal was to lead moderately challenging hikes in the Don Valley in order to see parts of the ravine system that are not regularly visited.

This hike started at Bayview Ave. and York Mills. The first leg on Wilket Creek passed through Windfields Park, Edwards Gardens, and Wilket Creek Park. We then walked through Serena Gundy Park and Sunnybrook Park beside the Don River to get to the mouth of Burke Brook.

We then followed this upstream through Sherwood Park, Blythwood Ravine, Chatsworth Ravine, and ended up in Brookedale Park near Avenue Rd and Lawrence Ave. West. The hike was a little over 11 km long and took 3.5 hours which is a pretty good pace. I received good reviews from the 22 attendees. The sunny day and cool temperatures also helped as it was perfect hiking weather. I liked this hike myself and intend on repeating it next year.

I've posted a few pictures of the hike for anyone who didn't make it.

Walking through the Toronto Botanical Gardens

Negotiating a tricky bit in Serena Gundy Park

Single file on the trail

Hike leader giving directions in Sunnybrook Park

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Baseball in Riverdale Park

Another sign of spring: baseball!

Riverdale Park with its wide flat bottomland is a great place to play sports including baseball. There are five diamonds, three west and two east, although I have seen more games played unofficially with just a hat or a piece of cardboard marking the locations of the bases.

This picture shows a mens league playing overhand fastball with a standard baseball. I sometimes find watching this more interesting than what you might get at the Skydome (I've heard that a 12 ounce plastic container of beer is now 7 bucks!) especially now when the Toronto Blue Jays are playing so badly. Better to come down to Riverdale Park where the game is just as interesting and much cheaper.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Events for May 12-13

Saturday, May 12

Tree Planting, Cedarvale Park, 10 AM - 12 Noon
Meet at the Markdale Avenue entrance. City of Toronto and the Task Force to Bring Back the Don

Bruce Trail/FODE hike, 1 - 5 PM
Walk along the open portions of Wilket Creek and Burke Brook. Meet at the SE corner of Bayview and York Mills. The intersection is a 5 minute bus ride from York Mills station with buses departing every 5 minutes.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

2006 Don Progress Report Released

Don Progress Report, 2006

Every three years for the past 10 years The Don Watershed Regeneration Council of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority has created a report card on the Don Watershed
  • 1997: Forty Steps to a New Don
  • 2000: A Time for Bold Steps
  • 2003: Breathing New Life into the Don

At the Paddle the Don Day this weekend, they released the 2006 Progress report called "Forging a New Deal for the Don". It follows a different format than previous reports in that there appears to be no ongoing comparison with past experience.

Personally, I am disappointed with the new format. The original "40 steps" report described 40 different areas of the watershed that needed to be improved from water quality and natural habitat to community participation and education. In the report card format it is easy to compare past performance to the present situation. The 2003 report even graded 18 of the categories. The list included A = 0; B = 1; C = 6; D = 10; F = 1. The B was for public perception and the F was for water flow patterns.

The 2006 report has done away with that format and focuses on the successes. You have to look very hard for any talk of problem areas or challenges and there is no mention of any failures.

While all of the reports have been short on data, at least the previous reports had some summaries. The previous reports had up, sideways, or down arrows to indicate trends. The 2006 report has none. The new report lists all sorts of new and interesting programs such as road salt management, pesticide by-laws, the naturalization of the Don Mouth. What the report doesn't tell you is how effective they are. For example, the report lauds Toronto's new pesticide bylaw and mentions what Vaughan, Markham, and Richmond Hill are doing. While spraying in the municipalities to the north has been reduced on city property it says that they are only promoting voluntary efforts on residents. Given Toronto's experience with voluntary reduction we all know how effective that will be but you won't find that out from this report. There is also no mention of whether pesticide levels are changing in the river.

I discussed the new format with a member of the Don Council. The reason for the removal of the comparison is that they were not completely sure about the accuracy of the data. Thus they decided to remove that part. I would rather they make a best guess rather than remove that component of the report because it looks like they are trying to hide something.

While the report is an interesting read it is definitely a poor succession to the previous three reports. I only hope that the 2010 report will be better.

P.S. The TRCA has been placing copies of past report cards on their website. Currently the 2006 Progress Report is not available. When I see it, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

BeltLine Pond Gets Signage

New sign for Beltline Pond

I passed by the Beltline Pond the other day and noticed that a new sign has been placed beside the trail. This pond and the adjacent ravine was one of the first small wetland projects performed by the Task Force to Bring Back the Don.

The pond suffers from anoxic conditions in the summer and fall and there is still the threat of invasive species. Overall it's in pretty good shape compared to the rest of the Moore Park Ravine which is pretty degraded, mostly due to overuse by dog walkers who allow their dogs to run off leash which is not allowed.

Beltline Pond, Spring 2005

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Paddle the Don Day

While I didn't actually paddle down the Don this year (I've done it twice), I went to a presentation that was held at the mouth of the Don next to the Keating Channel. The big hoopla this year was to announce the publication of the 2006 Don Progress Report (more on this later). There was also a free tour boat ride of the Portlands to look at the area that will be impacted by the mouth of the Don naturalization project.

Here's a few photos of the event.

A pair of paddlers entering the Keating Channel

Captain Bob Muran gives a welcome and safety speech before the ride

Looking west down the length of the Keating Channel

The lift bridge on Cherry Street opens for our egress to the harbour

The Eastern Gap

A view of Toronto's skyline

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Old Primrose Lane Debacle Resolved

Hill of gravel, February 2006

Hill of gravel gone now, construction has resumed

In February 2006 I blogged about a problem on a building site in the Lower Don. A developer excavating a property on Bayview for a new car dealership dug too close to the foundations of an adjacent housing complex causing a retaining wall to, well, stop retaining. The city quickly stepped in and propped the wall up with a huge pile of gravel. Everything ground to a halt while all involved pointed fingers.

Fortunately cooler heads have prevailed. The developer and the homeowners have reached an agreement. It was agreed that the retaining wall would be rebuilt as part of the construction of the new building. In essence the new building will prop up the damaged retaining wall. The developer has also agreed to do structural and cosmetic repairs. Construction has resumed and everyone is happy. Local councillor Pam McConnell deserves some credit for mediating the dispute and helping to avoid litigation.

Old Primrose Lane. Presumably the temporary walkway will be removed once the wall is restored

Friday, May 04, 2007

Bikers Ride Roughshod Over Now Magazine

An article in last week's NOW Magazine by Kyla Dixon-Muir entitled "Riding roughshod: Chainsaw-toting trail bike high-flyers cutting valley into mucky ribbons" on mountain biking in the Crothers' Woods invoked quite a response from all affected.

When the article came out the mountain bikers (at least according to the chat forums) went ballistic. While they can be quite passionate about their sport, I think they crossed ethcial and moral lines when someone published a photograph of the writer as well as her home address and phone number. This is even more alarming considering the fact that the writer is female and the mountain biking community is overwhelmingly male. This opens the way to all sorts of unkind harassment. Now editor Enzo di Matteo said as much in an unusual online editorial. Understandably, Ms. Muir was upset about this and sent a letter demanding an apology or face litigation.

The discussion threads on and Drop Machine are for the most part juvenile tripe although a minority do appear to be leading an informed discussion.

Now magazine must accept some blame for all this. Apparently they editted Muir's submitted text to such a point that what was published reinforced their own stilted editorial stance. Instead of a well balanced article it came out as overly one-sided.

Fortunately, the rhetoric has been toned down quite a bit as can be seen from letters to the editor that were published this week.

There are at least two lessons to be learned from all this. First, Now Magazine has a history of sensationalist journalism so anything they publish should be viewed with a jaundiced eye. Second, the mountain bikers as a group need to learn how to respond to such attacks with a more reasoned approach. The current situation only reinforces peoples' opinions of them.

Don Valley Events for May 5-6

Saturday May 5

Tree Planting, Taylor Creek Park, 10 AM - 12 Noon
Friends of the Don East

Meet at the parking lot on Haldon Avenue on the east side of Stan Wadlow Park in East York. Someone will be there to direct you to the planting site.

Tree Planting, Sun Valley site in Crothers' Woods, 10 AM - 12 Noon
City of Toronto

Meet at the bottom of Beechwood Drive next to the police dog training facility. Someone will be there to direct you to the planting site.

Sunday May 6

Tree Planting, Earl Bales Park, 10 AM - 12 Noon
City of Toronto

Look for signs at park entrance on east side of Bathurst St. just south of Wilson Ave.

Trail Build Day, Crothers' Woods, 10 AM - 4 PM
City of Toronto, IMBA

Work will continue to improve the trails running through this ecologically sensitive forest. Tools and gloves will be provided. Bring a lunch. Meet at the south corner of the Loblaws parking lot on Millwood Road.

Paddle the Don, 9 AM - 12 Noon
Toronto Region Conservation Authority

Rumour has it that the event is fully booked but you might be able to sneak a canoe into the water anyway if you arrive with your own. Wilket Creek Park, Leslie Avenue and Eglinton Ave. East.